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Author Topic:   Shouldn't Churches Learn from Deconversion Stories?
dwise1
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Message 1 of 28 (583979)
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


On FaceBook, former fundamentalist Ed Babinski referenced a blog, Honest Evangelism and the Importance of Deconversion. In it, the author, Dean Thomas of The Pines Training Centre in Australia (judging by the URL), mentions some notes he rediscovered on deconversion and discusses the experience of deconversion as well as referencing Babinski's book, Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to distinguish between Thomas' own words and any text that he is quoting. Some excerpts (possibly his own experience, but more likely from his rediscovered notes):
quote:
Fundamentalist Christianity was for me an 11-year ordeal of confusion, self-censorship and self-abasement. After the joy of my initial religious experience wore off, I moved into the modus operandi of Christian fundamentalists everywhere: I shut down emotionally and instead relied on the Bible to dictate my feelings. In Christian fundamentalist circles this is known as “living by faith.”

In my mid-20s I experienced a severe crisis which led me to question the wisdom of living in this manner. Over a period of about a year I allowed myself to think the doubtful thoughts which I had been filing away in the back of my mind for so long. I felt as if I was issuing a direct challenge to God himself, and lived in great fear of divine retribution. My doubts led me to discover that it was indeed possible to make sense of life, to make decisions for myself, to set and attain goals, and to know my own heart. My spiritual path forked. Do I remain true to honesty, or true to the faith? I chose honesty. Thus was I deconverted.

For several years I believed my experience to be unique. In time I met another person who had defected from the ranks of Fundamentalist Christianity; then another, and others still. I am now convinced that the number of Americans who have had a “deconversion” experience of some type is much greater than one would suspect.

Deconversion is currently an under-studied phenomenon which could provide an important perspective from which to understand religion in America. . . .


Then from Thomas' note's comments on Babinski's book, which is a collection of 33 deconversion autobiographies of "from people once active and highly visible within the ranks of Fundamentalist Christianity":

quote:
Surprisingly, the testimonies present only two key factors in their authors’ deconversions. The first is related to external circumstances, including the behavior of other church members, leadership, or the denomination. The second is wholly internal: church doctrine simply becomes untenable.

. . .

Another interesting aspect of the deconversion experience is that it is largely involuntary. Not one of Leaving the Fold’s contributors relates a process in which he consciously decides to leave the faith with deconversion as a goal. The testimonies are of those who set out to find their answers in an effort to maintain their faith. Only grudgingly did they come to accept that the answers for their questions were to be found outside church doctrine. In various ways each describes how he was forced by intellectual honesty to face his discoveries.

It may seem surprising at first to think of deconversion as an involuntary act. However, I would point out that the initial experience of being “saved” is very often itself involuntary. Converts are generally not provided with all the facts necessary to make an informed decision. Instead, revival meetings and proselytization efforts are engineered to create a specific vulnerable emotional state within the target. The convert is then manipulated into accepting whatever religious message the evangelist has to peddle. Individuals converted by such deceptive methods have not voluntarily chosen to convert; they have been coerced. It is a difficult thing to accept that one has been duped. No one chooses discover that he has been lied to.


Dean Thomas then discusses briefly how that article and his dealings with the deconverted on-line have changed his approach to evangelism.

My point here is that this is a case in which an evangelist has listened to the deconverted and has thought about what he has heard and as a result has reevaluated his approach. Why can't other evangelists and their churches do the same?

The practical answer is that those others and their churches almost never hear those deconversion stories, and when they do then they discount them or even deny that deconversion ever happens. Nowadays when one leaves their current employment, whether voluntarily or not, part of the process is a departure interview: the newly ex-employee is asked about his experience working for the company and to identify any problems that he encountered. IOW, the company wants to know what they are doing wrong.

Churches have no departure interviews, so they don't get any feedback from ex-members, except for the ones sufficiently disgruntled to write a nasty-gram. Ex-members simply drop out, stop attending, lose contact with the church. Ignorant of what it had done to drive those ex-members away, the church continues along its way driving even more members away.

The questions are:
1. Would it benefit churches and evangelists to learn why Christians of their own persuasion deconvert?

2. Should churches and evangelists try to learn what they're doing wrong from deconverts and try to correct their methods accordingly?

3. How would churches make up for the current lack of departure interviews?

Edited by dwise1, : changed topic title to something a bit more descriptive (Should -> Shouldn't)


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Admin
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Message 2 of 28 (584087)
09-30-2010 8:17 AM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Should Churches Learn from Deconversion Stories? thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
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nwr
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Posts: 5585
From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 3 of 28 (584088)
09-30-2010 8:36 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


Would it benefit churches and evangelists to learn why Christians of their own persuasion deconvert?

Haven't they done this in the past?

It is my impression that they investigated this, and found that many were deconverting after studying biology and evolution. So they cultified themselves into YECs, as a way of increasing the dogmatic pressure and dissuading Christians from studying biology.


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AZPaul3
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Posts: 3815
From: Phoenix
Joined: 11-06-2006
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 4 of 28 (584103)
09-30-2010 10:52 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


First, I don't think most fundamental churches can study their deconverts without concluding their deconverts' minds and souls have been taken by the devil and the only way to fight that is to go out and make more converts. They are disposed to supernatural explanations already and we already know a major theme in most such churches is that anything "bad," like deconversion, hurricanes and Democrats, is Satan's work.

Second, even if some progressive science-minded church were to make such a study, what are they going to do with the information? Change their core beliefs? Renounce creationism, the rapture, the literal bible, papal infallibility, the trinity, whatever their study shows as major causes in deconversion?

What I would expect in this progressive case is an increase in emotional appeals and mis-information campaigns targeted to overcome deconversion thinking.

Finally, I'm not sure we should be giving advice of things that may strengthen a religious community. Humanity has suffered enough under the yoke of false belief. But to now package it, make it pretty as a result of focus-group marketing schemes, will make lifting that yoke that much harder.

Edited by AZPaul3, : consistent metaphor.


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dwise1
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Message 5 of 28 (584144)
09-30-2010 3:37 PM
Reply to: Message 2 by Admin
09-30-2010 8:17 AM


Re: Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thought of this too late, but it probably would have been better if the title were: Shouldn't Churches Learn from Deconversion Stories?
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jar
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From: Texas!!
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(3)
Message 6 of 28 (584153)
09-30-2010 4:02 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


I believe that many have and do learn from deconversion stories, but that also creates an even larger problem.

Looking and listening to stories from folk that have left Christianity (limiting myself to just that for now) I tend to hear the same theme time after time.

"I could no longer believe what they were telling me."

The problem is that so many of the basic, very strongly held beliefs of many Christian sects simply do not stand up to examination. If they try to claim that the Bible is "The Word of GOD™" then if someone actually does read it, they quickly find out that either God was pretty inconsistent, constantly changing his mind or just plain making stuff up.

If the person actually studies biology, genetics, geology, history, physics, astronomy, archeology or almost any other science area, they pretty soon find that the record that is the universe we live in directly contradicts what they were taught to believe.

The major response from much of Christianity where deconversion is an issue has been "Avoidance".

If they can keep the kids from learning anything beyond the dogma, why then the problem is solved. They create avoidance schools, avoidance colleges, home school programs, set up radio stations and TV networks that just preach the dogma, search engines that filter out opposing views, restrict access to other knowledge and most recently, try to redefine even the terms people use to discuss science, history or any other threatening area.

It is a tactic of desperation, an admission that they have failed, that the battle to retain their dogma has already been lost and that their beliefs are doomed to fall into the trash heap of all the other failed religions.


Anyone so limited that they can only spell a word one way is severely handicapped!
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dwise1
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Posts: 3310
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 7 of 28 (584157)
09-30-2010 4:11 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by nwr
09-30-2010 8:36 AM


Have evangelists and evangelical churches actually studied the problem of deconversion? Do they really have a handle on how many members they are losing to deconversion as opposed to migration to other congregations? (as per Christian pollster George Barna, most "church growth" is simply "new" members having moved from another church) Have they actually studied the real reasons for deconversion?

It is my impression that very few have investigate this, let alone given it anything more than cursory thought. I am sure that they think that they know that the cause of deconversion is evolution, but they haven't done any actual research to verify that it is. They are just making assumptions based on their dogma and they hold onto those assumptions despite the evidence.

After all, they cannot admit that their theology has serious problems which are the real cause for most deconversions. We've all seen evangelicals go to any extreme rather than to seriously discuss and consider the reasons that ex-Christians give for having deconverted, including the classic "Then they really weren't true Christians to begin with."


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dwise1
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Posts: 3310
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 8 of 28 (584163)
09-30-2010 4:28 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by jar
09-30-2010 4:02 PM


It is a tactic of desperation, an admission that they have failed, that the battle to retain their dogma has already been lost and that their beliefs are doomed to fall into the trash heap of all the other failed religions.

Not an admission, for to admit to the truth would doom their own faith as well. More of an unspoken realization, subconcious even, rationalized into something else.

Around 1970 there was a sci-fi novel called Macroscope (by Zelasney? it's been quite a while -- {ABE: no, by Piers Anthony}). A kind of background radiation or neutrino-like particles had been discovered that was affected by everything it passed through, such that a computer connected to a detector could recreate images of everywhere those particles had been, thus we could visually see anywhere in the galaxy. They also discovered transmission though this medium, which they called The Messenger. The Messenger would always start its broadcast at the last place the viewer had gotten to (from the beginning for first-timers) and establish a common language for understanding the rest of the message, which revealed all kinds of very advanced technology. Superimposed on The Messenger was The Destroyer that would destroy the mind of anyone who understood the Messenger. The story's protagonist, Archer, wasn't smart enough to understand the message, so he'd view the Messenger and then relate what he had seen to the others who could then apply it. Because he could view the message without understanding it, he was able to avoid The Destroyer.

And that is the analogy I see in operation with fundamentalists. They need to understand what's happening in the real world in order to deal with very real problems. But if they do understand what's really happening, then that could destroy their faith -- either they imagine that it will or it actually will, or both. So they avoid the truth instead of having to deal with it. That works for most whose everyday lives never need to deal with science or the truth. But those who must deal with such things need to find other ways to avoid the truth, other ways to understand just enough to get by but not enough to realize the truth and so endanger their faith. This is especially true of active creationists who try to carry on the fight against evolution; they need to know enough to discuss the subject matter, but not enough to actually understand the subject matter.

Edited by dwise1, : author of Macroscope


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nwr
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From: Geneva, Illinois
Joined: 08-08-2005


Message 9 of 28 (584171)
09-30-2010 5:09 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by dwise1
09-30-2010 4:11 PM


dwise1 writes:
Have evangelists and evangelical churches actually studied the problem of deconversion? Do they really have a handle on how many members they are losing to deconversion as opposed to migration to other congregations? (as per Christian pollster George Barna, most "church growth" is simply "new" members having moved from another church) Have they actually studied the real reasons for deconversion?

They have reacted to it. I doubt that they have done what either of us would consider a serious study. But then it's typical that they don't do serious study.

dwise1 writes:
I am sure that they think that they know that the cause of deconversion is evolution, but they haven't done any actual research to verify that it is.

They do know that atheism is more common among biologists than among other scientists. I doubt that they have investigated much beyond that.
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dwise1
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Posts: 3310
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 10 of 28 (584213)
09-30-2010 9:49 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by AZPaul3
09-30-2010 10:52 AM


When I gave a presentation on "creation science" at church (UU), I expressed concern about the danger that "creation science" poses for its followers' faith and I was surprised by one woman's reaction of "So what? Deserves them right." While I pleased to see the atheist population grow, I nonetheless would prefer that people became atheists for the right reasons rather than for the wrong. That they had outgrown religion instead of quitting in anger and resentment. For one thing, the angry deconverts would be carrying with them the lessons their religion had taught them about what atheism is and how atheists act and so they would try to live according to those pernicious lies and make a mess of things. Nobody benefits in that scenario.

And, yes, those churches do need to change their teachings, though not as drastically as you think. Mainly, they need to change their idolizing the Bible, painting it as perfect and believing that if even a single part of it is found to be false then God is a liar and the entire Bible and Christianity need to be thrown on the trash heap (that is what many have adamantly proclaimed to me; I guess that Matt 7:20 doesn't help much either). It is primarily that biblioidolatry that forces them into their avoidance tactics and into embracing lies and deceptions such as "creation science". Instead of believing that their fallible human theology is infallible, they need to realize that if their theology teaches them something that clearly is not true (eg, earth no older than 10,000 years), then it is not God that is wrong, but rather their own theology and that that theology needs to be corrected. I view their inflexible refusal to admit that their theology could be wrong is a major cause of deconversion.

Now mind you, when I first entered into creation/evolution discussion in 1985 (after having studied the matter for a few years) I thought that once those creationists realized that their claims were wrong then they would correct their position. It took me a few years to figure out what was actually going on inside their beady little heads. Similarly, I would hope that churches and evangelicals taking the time to learn from deconversion stories would then work out ways to engage in more understanding and productive discussions with ex-Christians and other atheists. Instead, I'm sure, they will undoubtedly try to exploit that new knowledge to their own devious ends. After all, regardless of how they cloak themselves, inside they are still ravening wolves.


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Nij
Member (Idle past 2969 days)
Posts: 239
From: New Zealand
Joined: 08-20-2010


Message 11 of 28 (584217)
09-30-2010 9:59 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


Would it benefit churches and evangelists to learn why Christians of their own persuasion deconvert?

They already know: Satan has deceived them! Through his evil tools of evolution and the modern world's debaucherous attitude, their souls have become tarnished and must be saved from secularism which attempts to deny GOD!*

Should churches and evangelists try to learn what they're doing wrong from deconverts and try to correct their methods accordingly?

But they bring the Word Of GOD™! They could not be doing anything wrong!*

How would churches make up for the current lack of departure interviews

Ah, that's another easy one. All atheists are exactly the same because atheism is a religion with tenets of faith, so all you have to do is ask one atheist; not even that, just watch one on TV or read one of their books holy texts! Then you know exactly what all of them are thinking!*

*Yes, this is all sarcasm. Who would honestly be so stupid as to think these things (apart from creationists)?


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dwise1
Member
Posts: 3310
Joined: 05-02-2006
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 12 of 28 (584260)
10-01-2010 1:18 AM
Reply to: Message 11 by Nij
09-30-2010 9:59 PM


*Yes, this is all sarcasm. Who would honestly be so stupid as to think these things (apart from creationists)?

The sad thing is, you are completely correct in that assessment.

Dan Barker, co-prez of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, is now considered America's leading atheist but he grew up a fundamentalist and also served as a fundamentalist preacher, having been personally called to the ministry by God Himself. He described the situation with fundamentalists as being when "their theology becomes their psychology." They don't think as we normals do, but rather as their theology dictates.

For example, when I was going through my divorce, a friend in a local megachurch's singles ministry (I was helping them balance out their dance classes) talked me into going through their DivorceCare class (partially in order to keep me in the dance classes). Just a general call out to everyone present: if you are a non-Christian, do not let anyone talk you into DivorceCare and, if you are a Christian of or approaching the Baptist persuasion, please do not ever talk a non-Christian into taking that class. The fundamentalist view of relationships -- of practically everything -- is different than that of normals. For example, two Christian counselors (yes, they even need to have their own counselors to handle their kind of psychology) held a long series of weekly seminars on relationships, which used some of the same concepts as normals' counselors do, but everything had to be motivated by "because that's what Jesus wants you to do" and everything had to be evaluated on how it would bring you closer to God or to Jesus or to both (ignoring just exactly how their theology views the Two as being One-And-The-Same). Well, those two counselors were nowhere near as bad as DivorceCare was. There were kernels of truth presented, but they were lost under a mountain of Christian chaff (AKA "theological BS"). The overriding theme throughout was that it was impossible for anyone to recover from divorce, but rather only Jesus could possibly do it for you. Which, of course, means that only Christians, Christians of the right persuasion (ie, theirs), could ever possibly recover; atheists are therefore SOL ("out of luck").

Basically, the way I view the OP is that every single company/service/endeavor that provides a service to a group of people (I would think that we could say that a church provides a service to its congregation, in that the religious leaders of a church is to minister to its members) needs to monitor how well it's doing its job. So every single company/service/endeavor needs to track those instances in which it fails to provide that service. A company needs to pay attention to customer complaints. Similarly, a membership-based organization needs to track which members choose to leave at least to the point of determining why they had chosen to leave. That is very valuable information for the organization, because it will help them to determine where and why they are failing. Any organization that wants to remain in business should very strongly want to get their hands on that information.

That is why I feel that churches would want to learn why ex-Christians deconverted. Or why former members had left and gone to other churches and even to other denominations or religions. But at the same time, precisely those organizations who really need that kind of information (namely, fundamentalist and evangelical churches) at the same time will go out of their way to deny that information.

Any normal organization would do anything to get their hands on that kind of data, but then we are not talking about normals. The real reasons for members leaving run afoul with fundamentalist theology, so those churches have to deny those real reasons and substitute their own rationalizations. As we have seen over and over again, they allow their theology to trump reality. No, they insist on having their theology trump reality.


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Phage0070
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 28 (584283)
10-01-2010 4:52 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


dwise1 writes:

1. Would it benefit churches and evangelists to learn why Christians of their own persuasion deconvert?

In theory, yes. In practice though, I suspect such knowledge would likely cause more harm to the Christian cause than good. This is because most of the things that cause people to deconvert are not things that can be fixed or explained away.

I say this because most people who have a faith will go through a difficult process of trying to prop up their beliefs with anything and everything no matter how tenuous or illogical. It is only in the face of overwhelming opposition do they deconvert because it is understandably a traumatic and difficult decision. If these problems had convincing, comforting answers then they wouldn't be problems in the first place.

dwise1 writes:

2. Should churches and evangelists try to learn what they're doing wrong from deconverts and try to correct their methods accordingly?

See answer to one. Churches and evangelists might come at the issue from a slightly different direction than the average believer however. Since it is in their best interests to spread the religion, refining their pitch in order to retain members seems like a good plan. However, again I don't think that honest inquiry is going to yield answers to the problems that lead to deconversion.

The caveat here is that *dishonest* approaches would certainly gain from this type of research. Someone like Ray Comfort has certainly benefited from formulating deceptions specifically targeted at the factual and theological objections which lead peopled to lose their faith.

dwise1 writes:

3. How would churches make up for the current lack of departure interviews?

The same way they always have: Evangelize harder. Religions have flourished throughout the ages based on the principle that "There is a sucker born every minute." Some like Mormonism or Catholicism have a heavier focus on "born every minute" than others, but the idea is the same across the board. The goal is to get children young and indoctrinate them thoroughly, making it very difficult/unlikely that they will leave the religion. Considering what they are pitching I honestly think they are doing better than can be expected.

Think about it; missionaries go to countries where they can barely speak the language if at all, and get people to devote their lives to a magical being which has absolutely zero tangible evidence that it even exists. They turn people into willing, self-admitted slaves purely through a carefully honed sales pitch and method acting. Who says they need to work on their model?

PS: As an aside, I have personal bias toward the concept of religious ignorance being cultivated as a bolster to one's faith. When discussing my atheism with my Christian parents, one particular point of ignorance was very memorable. My father was completely unaware that any religion other than Christianity claimed that their god or gods performed miracles.

Seriously. He thought claims of supernatural influence and intervention were unique to Christianity. It floored me then, and it still amazes me now.


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frako
Member
Posts: 2813
From: slovenija
Joined: 09-04-2010


Message 14 of 28 (584286)
10-01-2010 5:20 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by dwise1
09-29-2010 4:38 PM


well the RCC is doing just that, they branded hitler as an atheist, the pope is visiting other christian leaders that do not follow the RCC, they are spinning the child abuse stories..... the rcc is has big problems atheist on the rise, muslims, protestants...They are doing everything they can even uniting whit a noter christian church was on the table. in the news i caught our priests complaining that they do not get enough money that their sheep should start throwing paper money in to the bag (the bigest coin is 2 eur 2.5$, the smallest paper is 5EUR 7.5$) the RCC is dying they are doing everything possible to no avail
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AZPaul3
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Posts: 3815
From: Phoenix
Joined: 11-06-2006
Member Rating: 3.0


Message 15 of 28 (584421)
10-01-2010 6:51 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by dwise1
09-30-2010 9:49 PM


For one thing, the angry deconverts would be carrying with them the lessons their religion had taught them about what atheism is and how atheists act and so they would try to live according to those pernicious lies and make a mess of things.

I'm not so sure of this. I've known more than a few atheists in my day and I do not know of one who left a church with intent to become a "sociopath in the atheistic tradition." What I have seen is that those with the strength of intellect to leave faith behind did so because, as you said, they have outgrown the church. And all these were angry at having been lied to and resented being treated like a mindless drone.

I nonetheless would prefer that people became atheists for the right reasons rather than for the wrong.

dwise1, there is only one "reason" to be an atheist. We do not believe. This is what is in (or lacking in) one's heart. Unlike religious indoctrination it cannot be forced. As you yourself well know, when one loses faith ones core morality does not change. Only the perceived incentive to be "moral" changes from external to internal, which, I would argue, is where it always was anyway.

I do not think there can be a "wrong" reason to leave the world of faith behind.


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